Monday, August 4, 2008

Multifamily zoning in Wallingford

Back on July 8, Mayor Nickels proposed an overhaul in rules governing areas zoned for multifamily housing, as well as changes in Seattle's townhouse design requirements. (See Seattle P-I article "Nickels calls for mandatory design review of new townhouses", July 9.)

This got me wondering about the areas of Wallingford that are zoned for multifamily units. Some are obvious: the area just to the north of Lake Union, and strips along major business district streets such as 45th and Stone Way. But some of the areas where townhouses can be built are still primarily dominated by single-family homes. I was surprised, a few years ago, when a large structure went up at the corner of Meridian and 46th, where a modest bungalow had stood, since I hadn't realized that the block was zoned to allow such things:

While that building (on the right in the picture) was under construction, I happened to talk to the owner of the adjacent house on 46th, a lovely old craftsman. She said she wanted very much to stay in her house, in part because she was afraid that if she sold to a developer it would lead to a "domino" effect in which all the single-family homes on the street would get replaced by condos. But at the same time she was distressed by the idea of having such a large building looming up over her house, and this made her reluctant to stay. On top of that, she was receiving dozens of mail solicitations a month from developers who wanted to buy the house.

Some time after that conversation, the smaller multi-family unit on the left in the picture above went up where her house had been.

If you are curious about whether your own lot is zoned for multifamily housing, you can find out by entering your street address on this web page at the City of Seattle's Department of Planning and Development web site: . You'll get all kinds of interesting data on your parcel, including a map of the surrounding streets and their zoning. Click on the "base zone" link to see a key that explains the zoning code. (Anything that starts with "SF", for example, is zoned for single family housing.) The area where the buildings pictured above are located is zoned "Lowrise 2".

You can also download detailed zoning maps (in pdf format) of different areas of the city from the same site, at . But be forewarned: they are complex and not easy to read.

I myself am of two minds when it comes to the kind of development that has happened at 46th and Meridian. I know that higher density is good for neighborhoods, good for transit, and good for the environment. At the same time, I hate to see lovely old housing stock replaced with buildings that at best fit in awkwardly with what's around them and at worst are downright ugly. It's unclear whether the mayor's new proposals for townhouse design will make them more or less attractive.


Anonymous said...

I actually really like the townhouse development on the corner there. It's different than the normal "6-pack", and fits in with the neighborhood better, IMHO.

Anonymous said...

So,I checked out my house from that link you provided. The map shows that all the houses on my street are zoned SF5000, as does the code on my house -- but my immediate neighbor's house says SF5000 and NC240, and the next one down (farther even from 45th) shows up as SF5000, NC240 and L2. Anyone know what that signifies?

Wes said...

NC2-40 is "Neighborhood Commercial 2" meaning that the space can be used for residential and/or commercial space. The "40" refers to the maximum height of the structure - 40 feet.

I'm not sure what L2 means. I think it means that you can have multi-unit structures as opposed to SF zones which are for single-family homes.

Anonymous said...

But do you know why different houses on the same street would be zoned so differently? Especially when the overall color zoning map just shows SF5000 for everyone? Could my zoning change without me knowing about it?

Wes said...

I doubt your zoning can change without your knowledge. I'm sure the initial assignments are based on how they want the overall neighborhood design to go, so relevant factors will include things like proximity to a major street and such.

I think where you see oddball zoning assignments on a given street, it's because the current or previous owner actually applied for a zoning change for their property because of something they wanted to do with it.

Wes said...

I'm totally guessing here though - I'm sure DPD could tell you the real story.

Lance Sleuthe said...

The FAQ page on zoning at the DPD site,, is a good starting point for getting more detailed information. There is a link on the page to a downloadable pdf file listing zoning classifications with short descriptions. For example, L2 is defined as "Residential, Multifamily, Lowrise 2: 2 to 3-story lowrise apartment building or townhouses with a density limit of one unit per 1,200 square feet of lot area and a maximum of 40% lot coverage (50% for townhouses).... Find details about this zone in our online Multifamily Zoning Chart."

Anonymous said...

i wonder about zoning changes as well.
we curretnly live just on the border of wallingford/fremont, where most of the block has been or is under development. there are 5 small homes left on the block, including our sweet rental, and IMO the neighborhood is ruined. Our landlady asked if we would like to buy in the neighborhood - perhaps, but not her house. The 3 story townhome that went up four feet from the property line felt hostile. And each new one is uglier than the last. And then there is the fact that they have inadequate partner loves Seattle, but because of the ass backwards "urban planning" I'm not sold on staying here. if your home/neighborhood is zoned SF - hold onto it for dear life

Lance Sleuthe said...

Your comment on parking reminded me that I recently learned, to my surprise, that many townhouses have garages that are too small for cars. Apparently there is a requirement that they have garages, but not a requirement that cars fit in them, so developers make them small in order to increase available space for other purposes. As a result owners are forced to park in the street and use the garage for storage. See, for example, this post from the blog of the Miller Park neighborhood:

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